FIRE! Making Small Costume Flames

Safety Note: This tutorial uses open flames to heat plastic. This should be done in a well-ventillated area by adults only! Kids, ask an adult for assistance! Test the material you’re going to be heating first and have water on hand for flare-ups as a precaution. 

People at conventions are understandably cranky about actual live fire/open flames. And while your costume genuinely may call for fire, in enclosed spaces with other people, it’s really frowned upon.

So, what can you do to get a look of flames without setting anything on fire? When I needed flames for the end of Tim the Enchanter‘s staff, I wanted orange cellophane. Cello is crunchy, reflective, and if you bunch it up just right, can look really fiery. Alas, no place we looked had any orange cellophane. Party City had semi-transparent orange treat bags, but they were a softer (less “crunchy”) material and I didn’t think I could make it work.

We ended up with some clear-and-red striped bags from Michael’s that were still not as rigid as I wanted, but I thought I could make work.


First thing, I cut off the bottom, and slit open the side. I used my Sharpie® markers in orange and yellow to get more color out of the red/clear bag since I couldn’t get the orange I wanted initially.


I added some red into the wide clear panels to break up all the orange.

Once I was satisfied with the color (it doesn’t have to be perfect, or solid), I cut some V-shaped notches in the strip, taking care not to get them too narrow for what came next: actual fire.


Light a small candle, something that doesn’t put out a lot of heat. The plastic is going to melt fast enough without having a lot of heat that is hard to control. Holding the “lobes” over the candle, warp the plastic, letting it stretch a little but not burn through — this will take some practice, but even if you mess up, it’s not a catastrophe. While the plastic is still malleable, bunch it in your hand to crinkle it lengthwise. That will give it some stability to stand up and look like shooting flames. Continue this with the other lobes on the bag until you’re done. Now you can roll the whole strip up and insert it into the weapon or around the end of the staff that’s shooting fire.

bag-candle1 bag-candle2

Close-up of the flames at the end of Tim’s staff.
So as not to damage the hiking stick, the flames were simply taped on with clear tape. The stick is lacquered, so it will peel right off.

Here’s a video I did of the candle/heating process. This should make a little more sense: